In Arthur Miller’s powerful stage play The Crucible, composed in 1953 as a metaphor for the McCarthy hearings on communism in America, the concept of conscience is greatly highlighted in a number of the main characters. Miller himself as soon as stated that The Crucible focuses on “the dispute in between guy’s raw deeds and whether conscience remains in truth an organic part of the person or simply an adjunct of the state or mores of the time” (Blossom 146).
In this play, conscience appears to be based on Christian ideas, specifically the ideas of morality, the confession of one’s sins and the regret and penance for these sins. At the beginning of the play, conscience, as an issue of morality, is specified extremely plainly, for Reverend Parris, “gullible, uncaring, and villainous who cares more about his credibility than reality” (Paton 67), mentions “a minister is the Lord’s guy in the parish … not to be so gently crossed and contradicted” (Act 1, Scene 1). Therefore, this develops that theologically, a minister is the ultimate decider of morality in the parish of Salem, Massachusetts, where all of the action of The Crucible happens. The church, in such a theocratic community, defines conscience; right and wrong is chosen by this authority in conjunction with particular spiritual teachings.
As a supportive note, Michelle Pearson tells us that “For greater functions, individuals of Salem developed a theocracy, a mix of state and spiritual power whose function was to keep the neighborhood together and prevent any type of disunity … grounded on the idea of exclusion and restriction” (184 ), which seemingly reveals that the time came during the Salem witch trials when the repression of order was heavier than seemed necessitated by the threats against which the order was organized.
With Salem being a place where the conscience of individuals was strictly governed by this theocracy, the social atmosphere of the parish was truly repressive. But at the start of The Crucible, it is obvious that the people had actually already begun to feel the strains of this repression. Abigail Williams, a really beautiful, orphaned woman who lives with her uncle, the Reverend Parris, says to John Proctor, a farmer who serves as “a prime example of a sinner who has the ability to accept and confess of his sins in order to do great” (Pearson 192), “I never understood what pretense Salem was, I never ever knew the lying lessons I was taught by all these Christian females” (Act 1, Scene 2). Thus numerous others in Salem, Abigail is rather knowledgeable about the hypocrisy developing from the stringent repression of theocracy, and has actually begun to rebel against it. When the girls dance naked in the woods and cast spells, an act strictly forbidden by theocratic law, Abigail immediately utilizes this as a means to “work herself around the conscience of the church and all its limitations and develop her own concept of what is best and what is wrong” (Decter 204). However Abigail is not the only character in The Crucible that is guilty of using the witch hunt as a way to cultivate specific interests, for Putnam uses the trials as a method to obtain land, therefore manipulating the typical limiting mores of Salem to produce his own conception of conscience.
With all this, a new conscience has actually evolved in The Crucible, stemming from the trials in which “the societal balance was turned towards higher individual liberty” (Paton 146). Preferably, the community of Salem has actually turned from a rigorous, repressive conscience to one where personal gain and “common revenge composes the laws” (Blossom 170). The church has actually lost its magnificent power and as Mr. Hale so eloquently points out “The insane kids” are now “jangling the secrets of the kingdom.”
As Arthur Miller states, the character of John Proctor was considerably reassuring, for as a sinner “he might reverse his incapacitating individual guilt and end up being the most sincere voice versus the madness around him” and demonstrate that “a clear moral protest could still spring even from an ambiguously unblemished soul” (160 ). This “individual guilt” is associated with Proctor’s affair with Abigail Williams which greatly impacts his own conscience, for he is “a sinner, not only versus the ethical style but also his own inner vision of good conduct” (Decter 168) as manifested in the faith of Salem. Proctor’s conscience difficulties him throughout the play and increases in his relationships with other characters, for he envisages himself as a sinner, due to his deeds associated with his adultery.
But the courts in Salem are intent on ridding the parish of evil by causing its morality upon the people. As Judge Danforth exclaims, “No uncorrupted man might fear this court” (Act 3, Scene 2), which emphasizes the fact that the court is the epitome of morality in Salem. And it is here that the concern of whether conscience is natural to the human being as postured by Miller concerns the forefront, for the courts exist, in part, to provide conscience and morality, based upon the assumption that conscience is not part of man but ordained by God which the laws of the church are required to offer this conscience in order to distinguish between good and evil for the meaningless human being.
For that reason, the courts need that all those accused and condemned of practicing witchcraft needs to confess or be hung at the gallows. With this, conscience has actually been turned over to the state which replaces God and chooses matters of right and incorrect. As an act of compliance, confession develops the courts and those who keep them as the ultimate signs of authority and power on earth. As an outcome, when conscience is turned over to the state, repression takes place and in some cases leads to personal and social disasters.
The Salem witch trials, as conceived by Paton, therefore became “a chance for everybody to publicly express their regret or sins under the cover of allegations versus the victims” (256 ). In support of this, Arthur Miller states “individuals of Salem had no ritual for the getting rid of sin” (162 ); confession, then, in the case of the courts, satisfies of eliminating guilt while under the umbrella of hypocrisy. John Proctor, the “point of moral recommendation versus which all the action in The Crucible is evaluated” (Pearson 210), faces his own morality when he confesses his adulterous affair to his wife Elizabeth. In the beginning, Proctor believes it is Elizabeth who is judging him, and his confession places her in a state of power, replacing God and the courts as the figures of morality and conscience which has actually been turned over to her.
Maybe this is the reason Proctor later on declines, together with Rebecca Nurse, the old, dedicated woman, kind, strong-willed and sensible, to falsely admit being in league with the Devil. Yet both of these characters comprehend that their conscience will never allow them to live a regular life, and Proctor winds up serving his own conscience instead of that of the courts and pays the ultimate price, being death. In conclusion, Arthur Miller established that conscience is certainly a natural part of the human being, which for all intents and purposes, the natural conscience is the truest type as compared to the courts and the church, repressive, superficial and filled with hypocrisy.
SOURCES POINTED OUT
Bloom, Harold. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996.
Decter, Midget. “The Witches of Arthur Miller.” Commentary. Vol. 103 no. 3 (1997 ): 54-56.
Miller, Arthur. “Why I Composed The Crucible: An Artist’s Answer to Politics. New Yorker. October 21 & & 25, 1953: 158-64.
Paton, Alan and Denis M. Calandra. Notes on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Pearson, Michelle. “John Proctor and the Crucible of Individuation in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Studies in American Drama. Vol. 6 no. 1 (1991 ): 15-27.